What to Pack for Alaska
Last Updated on April 27, 2023
Alaska is an enormous and diverse state with a wide range of weather, landscapes and activities. This can make packing a challenge! I lived in Alaska for seven years in Fairbanks (dry, extreme cold in winter and super hot in summer) and Skagway and Juneau (wet, more mild, very wet in winter) and I still travel to Alaska about four times a year. I’ve been all over Alaska as a resident and visitor for more than 25 years so I have learned everything there is to know about what to pack. These are my best tips for packing everything you need without bringing a ton of extra luggage!
In this article, I’ll talk about some things to consider when deciding what to pack for Alaska. Note: this list does not include camping gear, if you’re doing a backcountry trip or a camping trip read my guide for camping in Alaska here.
The absolute most important thing to bring if you are visiting any part of Alaska between May and September is to bring a good rain jacket and waterproof shoes or boots. Everything else you can improvise but rain gear is key to having a great time on your trip no matter what the weather decides to do.
- Packing light
- What temperature to expect
- How much daylight to expect
- What to pack for Alaska in summer
- What to pack for Alaska in winter
- What to pack for an Alaska cruise
Things to consider when packing for Alaska
How much can you bring?
When planning what to pack for Alaska, the first thing is to think about how much luggage you can bring on your trip. If you’re traveling a lot of different places, taking planes, trains and automobiles, you may need a lighter packing list than someone who is traveling on a cruise ship and bus tour. If you’re going to more than one place on your own, I’d consider bringing what you can pack in a carry on bag. This is easy to carry and reduces the likelihood of losing your bags!
All the items on my packing list for Alaska I can fit into a carry on size bag (except for my big winter coat and snow pants, but you won’t need those unless you go to the interior part of Alaska in winter). I usually pack enough for a few days and plan on doing laundry at some point, which also helps in packing light. Alaska is a casual place, similar to the Pacific Northwest. You don’t need a dressy outfit unless you want one.
Alaska is a place where you can eat in any restaurant in jeans or hiking clothes, so you don’t need to bring a nicer outfit unless you want to (even on a cruise, see below).
If you are doing a tour requiring specialized gear, such as kayaking or glacier trekking, your tour operator will provide specialized gear (such as paddles, life jackets and crampons). When in doubt, check with them. You do not need a whole new gear closet for a guided adventure.
Alaska is a state with very different temperatures winter and summer, and very different within winter and summer in different areas. Do research to understand what to expect for the temperature in the part of the state you’ll be visiting and the time of year. For example, Southeast Alaska is wet and cool, with summer temperatures usually in the 50s and 60s (though it can get much warmer at times). Fairbanks on the other hand is extremely dry, with the exception being August when it does often rain a bit. Fairbanks can be very hot in the summer, but isn’t always hot.
In winter, Southeast Alaska is extremely wet, and while they definitely get snow, they don’t always have it all winter. In Fairbanks and Denali National Park, temperatures way below zero are common from November through February or March. Anchorage is somewhere in between, consistently cold and snowy in the winter but not as cold as the Interior (Fairbanks and Denali). Learn more here about what to expect each month in Alaska.
Another important thing to consider in what to pack is the hours of daylight. In the summer, all of the state has long days, ranging from 18 hours in Ketchikan to the sun not setting at all above the Arctic Circle. Similarly, in the winter months there are far fewer hours of daylight. In March and September, there are about 12 hours of daylight just like everywhere else on earth around the equinox.
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What to pack for Alaska in Summer
Summer can be quite warm (up to the 80s or occasionally even the 90s in the interior). It can also be cold and rainy. Bugs are a dominant feature of Alaska summer so I recommend having a hat with a brim for a headnet as well as light weight long pants and a long shirt. These things are helpful for bug and sun protection. When the sun is out it’s really intense!
This is my personal packing list for Alaska in the summer:
Personal Items and Entertainment
- Medications, over the counter and prescriptions
- Toiletries (I keep it simple and I encourage you to as well)
- Analog entertainment: you’ll likely be in places without access to the internet or a cell phone signal. You also might spend a lot of hours on airplanes, ferries or trains so having reading material, art supplies or a deck of cards is a great idea! I am a big fan of the Kindle paperwhite, because you can bring endless reading material in something lightweight and durable (and the battery lasts a long time in airplane mode). It also has a built in light for reading in the dark (life changing!) but it doesn’t really light up like a screen. This model is also waterproof!
- Waterbottle: I love the Hydro flask with a straw lid (get it here on Amazon or here at REI), it keeps cold things cold and hot things hot and has a million awesome colors. If you’re going to be spending time in the backcountry, I recommend giving the CrazyCap water bottle a try, it has a water treatment UV light right in the cap!
- Essential phone accessories: In addition to your charger, I highly recommend bringing a back up power supply for your phone. In remote areas without service phone batteries die fast, especially when you’re taking lots of photos and videos. I have this one which adds three extra charges to my phone which is pretty amazing! I also carry this phone tripod and waterproof pouch for my phone so I can do anything!
- An eye mask can be really helpful for sleeping during daylight that lasts 24 hours a day!
- Durable snacks: I’m not a fan of bars, but I always bring some because on long trips it’s nice to be able to have a snack with you, especially in more remote areas
- Sunglasses and sunscreen – when the sun comes out in Alaska, it’s intense!
Related: Cell service in Alaska and keeping devices charged and connected
Clothing and Gear to pack for Summer in Alaska
- Underwear and socks (light wool socks are ideal since they stay warm when wet)
- Lounging clothes: whatever you like to wear around your cabin, hotel or vacation rental in evenings and mornings (or pajamas).
- Hiking pants: I love the Columbia Saturday Trail pants and they are great pants to pack for Alaska! (Get them here on Amazon or here at REI). They are great for hikes in hot weather. They are really good for plus size women and have sizes up to 24. They are also terrific for bug protection and you can cinch them up to capris if you like. If you’re hiking in Alaska in the summer, you need to be ready for hot sun or drenching rain. I’d love to tell you you could plan on one or the other but it just isn’t true. Read more about my recommendations for hiking pants for curvy and plus size women here.
- Leggings: I love these leggings. They don’t slide down, they have awesome pockets and they are fairly warm. These are a good option for hiking or walking around on wet days, and they are also a great option to wear underneath rain pants so they don’t get too clammy. Leggings do not provide much bug protection since they fit tight against your skin (wear the hiking pants instead or layer rain pants over them). If you get cold easily, get the fleece lined version of the leggings.
- Rain pants: I hate them and don’t wear them often because I get too hot and clammy in them. However I always bring them especially to Southeast Alaska. They are perfect for boat trips or anytime you might be sitting on something wet outside. They also make for excellent bug protection. These REI ones are the best ones I’ve found (also in plus sizes!)
- Long sleeve light weight shirt – this comes in really handy for sun protection as well as bug protection. I’m not usually a fan of button up shirts but I often wear them unbuttoned and they’re pretty comfortable that way. My favorite button up sun and bug shirt is this one that you can get here on Amazon (also in plus sizes) and here at REI (also in plus sizes)
- T shirt or tank top: It can get hot in Alaska in the summer so I always bring a couple of short sleeved or sleeveless tops. These also work to wear under the long sleeve button up shirt.
- Swimsuit – For hot springs, hot tubs and lakes!
- Long sleeve base layer: This is a great option to layer under a rainjacket without being too hot! You can use any long sleeve workout shirt you already have. I love the Smartwool base layer shirt (get it here at REI or here on Amazon) if you’re looking for something new. They’re expensive but totally worth it!
- Warm layer: I suggest a fleece jacket (like this one at Amazon or REI) or a light puffy jacket any time of year. One that can get wet and still be warm (synthetic not down) is a good idea.
- Rain Jacket: You absolutely need an excellent rain jacket!! I have two, the REI XeroDry (men’s version here) and Marmot Minimalist (men’s version here) are the two rain jackets I currently own and both of them feel like new after a couple years of heavy use. I would make the decision based on where you like to shop and what size you are. The REI XeroDry comes in plus sizes and tall men’s sizes, which the Marmot minimalist unfortunately does not.
- Boots: These rubber boots are amazing (and adorable!!) and I hike in them all the time. You could just bring hiking boots (see the next bullet) but rubber boots are even better. Read all my suggestions for the best boots for Alaska here.
- Waterproof shoes: I’ve mentioned before that I don’t wear hiking boots and wear hiking shoes instead (get them here on Amazon or here at REI). If you prefer hiking boots, then bring those!
- Sandals: I suggest bringing sandals for warm days with less bugs or for wearing in the water. I am a fan of chacos because they’re lightweight and comfortable to walk in. Get them here on Amazon or here at REI. Crocs are another excellent option for easy slip on and off and work anytime of year, in any weather (get the kind without holes in the top!).
- Hat: This is my favorite hat for summer because it’s lightweight and protects your face from the sun as well as keeping rain off it. It also has holes for your sunglasses and it comes in a million colors. You can wear a headnet over it too. You might consider a warm wool hat or fleece hat especially if you’re camping or going to the arctic
- Bug spray and a headnet: Pretty much all of Alaska has intense bugs in the summer. This is a pretty easy thing to pick up once you get there, so don’t stress about packing it if you don’t already have it.
- A headlamp – if it’s late May through July you won’t need this except in southeast Alaska. In southeast Alaska at that time it will get dark for a couple of hours.
- If you plan on hiking, here is my list of what I wear and what I bring on day hikes in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
What to Pack for Alaska in Winter
The most important thing about deciding what to pack for Alaska in winter is determining if you’re going to a place that’s predominantly wet (southeast Alaska) or predominantly cold (Anchorage and especially Fairbanks). Make sure to still bring light clothes since buildings are often super hot in Alaska in the winter! Keep the tank top and throw in some shorts for hot indoor spaces.
In Southeast Alaska, winter temperatures often hover around freezing to a bit above or below. You may encounter plenty of snow or rain. In Fairbanks and the Interior including Denali National Park, the temperature stays below zero for many months. Anchorage and southcentral Alaska is somewhere in between. It frequently gets below zero, but more often is in the single digits and teens.
My personal packing list for Alaska in winter includes all of the items on the summer packing list EXCEPT:
- Bug Spray and Headnet
- Summer Hat
- Summer Hiking Pants
- Long Sleeve Light weight button up shirt
- Sandals (although I usually bring crocs instead)
Additional Items to Pack for Alaska in Winter
Take out the rain pants (unless you’re going to Southeast Alaska, then keep the rainpants) and add:
- Warm wool hat: The one in the summer packing list is great, just make sure you have it!
- Jeans: It sounds a little silly but your favorite jeans will serve you well in Alaska in winter. Make sure you have the snow pants to wear if you’re outside for awhile when it’s really cold.
- Snow pants: Make sure to have really warm snow pants for Southcentral and Interior Alaska (Anchorage and Fairbanks) in winter. I love these insulated winter pants, but you can totally grab any affordable snow pants you can get your hands on. They don’t need to be anything special (have long underwear or leggings to wear under them, it’s much more comfortable and warm!)
- Gloves and Mittens: the type of gloves will vary greatly depending on your preferences. These are the ones I wear most often, they are fairly light allowing you to still use your hands and they have pads so you can use a phone with them on. You’ll also want mittens or mitts to wear over them. When it’s really cold you need mittens but sometimes you have to take the off and you’ll want light gloves underneath. These are fantastic waterproof mittens for layering. If you already have gloves and mittens you love, just bring those!
- Buff: Having something to pull up over your nose and mouth is helpful when it’s really cold. It can also function as a scarf or headband. Get it here on Amazon or here at REI
- Really warm puffy down or synthetic coat that’s LONG and has a hood. This REI one is affordable, super comfortable and very warm! It’s also super packable into it’s own pocket which is wonderful since winter gear can be so bulky. This Columbia one you can shop for on Amazon is another great option.
- Warm Boots: I love these Sorel boots, they are incredibly comfortable and warm and good for walking long distances. They are also waterproof around the rubber bottom, which is nice for coming indoors with wet feet and having snow melt on everything!
What to Pack for An Alaska Cruise
If you’re traveling to Alaska on a cruise, then you’ll be visiting in the summer. If it’s May or September expect colder temperatures (especially in September). Be ready for rain any time of year.
You don’t really need to bring anything different than what I recommend to pack for Alaska in summer, but I do have a few specific items to consider for cruising Alaska, in addition to the summer packing list:
- Many cruise ships offer an opportunity for formal dining, and if you enjoy dressing up bringing a dressy outfit can be fun! This is never required on the ship, so if you don’t enjoy it you don’t have to do it.
- Blanket and/or really warm clothes so you can enjoy time on the outside on the decks. Temperatures in Alaska are cool in summer compared to most of the US, and you don’t want to miss out on awesome views outside by being cold. The decks of the ship are often windy and you’ll usually have lots of solitude outside if you are prepared with warm clothes
- Don’t forget that swimsuit, most cruise ships have hot tubs! And, if you’re hardy, you can even enjoy and Alaska pool day and probably have the pool all to yourself